FIVE YEARS AGO, the RSPCA dramatically withdrew its support for Crufts, the world’s largest dog show.
The animal rights organisation was concerned about the welfare of the dog contestants because of the emphasis on appearance which impacts the way they are bred.
There has also been suggestions of a widespread use of performance enhancers and beauty products.
In an attempt to boost its image this year, Crufts has decided to host the final of the Scruffts competition to showcases the best of the world’s mongrels.
Pedigree dogs are not allowed to enter and the qualities judged are character, health and temperament, rather than looks and obedience.
The RSPCA has welcomed the inclusion of crossbreeds but still holds “serious concerns” about the four-day contest. It insists all dogs should be judged more on their health and welfare than their appearances.
The Scruffts category is only a “small step in the right direction”, according to the association.
“Shows like Crufts focus predominantly on appearance when judging. This has a significant impact on the way that dogs are bred and so we want all classes to judge animals according to their heath, temperament and welfare, rather than focussing on how they look,” said scientific officer Lisa Richards.
Three major reports were published on dog breeding in the UK in the 18 months following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, a documentary first broadcast on BBC One more than four years ago. They investigated some of the serious health and welfare issues experienced by many pedigree dogs as a result of the way they are bred.
All three reports concluded that the welfare issues associated with pedigree dog breeding are extremely serious, while the recent EFRA report on dog control and welfare said that too many dogs continue to suffer ill-health due to inbreeding and breeding for exaggerated characteristics.
The Friends for Life category has also been seen as a positive step for Crufts. This year, the finalists include a three-legged dog who has helped cure a seven-year-old disabled boy shyness.
Owen Howkins has a rare genetic disease but his family say Haatchi, the Anatolian Shepherd dog, has given him “a new lease of life”.
Owen himself says, “Haatchi has changed my life. I didn’t really meet many others with disabilities and felt like the odd one out, which made me really sad. But when I saw Haatchi and saw how strong he was, even though he only had three legs, I became stronger myself. I love him so much.”
The final of the Scruffts competition takes place at 5.50pm today.